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Social media and information communication technologies

Last edited: August 12, 2020

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Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) continue to redefine and revolutionize the way we all live and work. They provide unprecedented prospects for increasing the opportunities and overall well-being of women and girls. ICTs have the potential to accelerate their connectivity, voice and agency within the political, economic and social fabric of society. Harnessing this technology to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment is not only vital for women and girls, but critical throughout the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Technologies, in and of themselves, may be neutral and their potential the same for men and women, however, social and cultural norms and structural barriers mean that in practice there are great differences in access, use and safety between them.  As of 2017, the gender digital divide remains significant. Women are less likely to make use of the Internet in most countries particularly in developing countries. This underrepresentation is more obvious in least developing countries, where only one in seven women uses internet compared with one in five men. This divide has grown significantly as tracked over a five-year period (2012-2017) in Africa (ITU, 2017).

The gender digital divide goes beyond simple access issues and is inextricably linked to factors such as technical know-how; education about the benefits and applications of technology; the content and methods by which relevant skills are taught; and the ability of women and girls to use technology and engage with the internet without the fear of and/or experience of discrimination and violence.

Working in the social media space is not only about leveraging technologies and platforms to promote and advocate for social norms change, but also requires working to improve access, the skills to engage and the rampant abuse that women and girls face online and via other communications technologies. 

Common Sense Media: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/social-media

UNODC Safer Internet for Children- http://www.unodc.org/dohadeclaration/en/news/2018/02/leading-our-children-to-a-safer-internet--from-preschool-to-high-school.html

The global scope and magnitude of violence against women online is not known, but studies indicate that a large proportion of women have experienced some form, including, but not limited to: sexist and derogatory comments, intimidation and threats, stalking, doxing, trolling, non-consensual sharing of personal and private content and images, and luring for the purpose of exploitation, among other abuses (Association for Progressive Communications, undated).

Various measures are required to prevent online abuse and respond appropriately when it does occur.  Evolving work in this area, includes: better defining what constitutes online violence against women; development of international and national guidelines, regulations, legislation and standards (with regard for freedom of speech and privacy); collaboration and support to internet intermediaries to engage in institutional change processes that include gender-responsive policies, protocols, codes of conduct, self-regulatory guidelines and standards, staff training, internal mechanisms for identifying, tracking and reporting (with transparency) on abusive content and complaints related to abuse; investments in the development, refinement and use of a gender-responsive ICT architecture; to continued digital literacy education for boys and girls, women and men, among other interventions that are being explored in this constantly evolving area.   

Resources:

Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2015: Best Practice Forum (BPF) on Online Abuse and Gender-Based Violence Against Women: http://www.intgovforum.org/cms/documents/best-practice-forums/623-bpf-online-abuse-and-gbv-against-women/file

#HerNetHerRights Resource Pack on ending online violence against women & girls in Europe: https://www.womenlobby.org/IMG/pdf/hernetherrights_resource_pack_2017_web_version.pdf

Hollaback Online Harassment Resources: https://www.ihollaback.org/resources/ and https://iheartmob.org/about

Association for Progressive Communications Technology-related Violence against Women: https://genderit.org/onlinevaw/

The exponential growth of the internet and new technologies are changing the rules of the game for media.  As of 2017, 80 per cent of youth across 104 countries were online (ITU 2017).  This is an important context for violence prevention work.  The impact of other media (and non-media) interventions can be considerably enhanced when accompanied by social media activities, which enable reaching large audiences to engage in a dialogue. On social media, various options exist, such as live discussions at appointed times on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, or through Facebook forums. Other linkages can also be created using YouTube or VIMEO channels and developing videos discussing the issues identified and inviting comments. For all these formats, practitioners are encouraged to hold moderated conversations given the sensitivity and backlash potential of the issues discussed.

Globally, social media tools have already helped fuel enormous social and political movements and have considerably strengthened the ability of ordinary people to challenge and change power relations in society through platforms that can influence and mobilise people. Online communities continue to grow, providing alternative voices and perspectives without having to rely on mainstream media. There are a number of examples where social media has been used collectively by women to tell their own stories of VAWG, which have attracted enough attention to cross over into print and broadcast media. In this respect, social media provides an empowering platform for women’s voices and can be a conduit for VAWG prevention work, reclaiming its power as a vehicle for women’s resistance and solidarity.

 

Her Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe)

Launched by Fungai Machirori in 2012, Her Zimbabwe is an online magazine that aims to harness the potential of digital media to share the stories of Zimbabwean women, including their stories of violence, as well as to nurture young women’s digital activism. With support from HIVOS and Free Press Unlimited, in 2016 Her Zimbabwe introduced the Mobile Community Zimbabwe project (ZWM3), a fellowship for young women trained by Her Zimbabwe to apply a gender lens to digital storytelling using mobile phones. The project equips young women with the skills to tell the alternative Zimbabwean stories marginalized by the mainstream media. Her Zimbabwe is well set up for hosting a wide variety of content and has clear and easy to use social media sharing options. It is an ideal platform for reaching specific and broad target audiences to talk about gender stereotypes and VAWG prevention.

For more information, see: http://herzimbabwe.co.zw/

An unprecedented example of this is #metoo that went viral with hundreds of thousands of women publicly disclosing that they had experienced sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence at some point in their lives. Though not a new issue, this medium allowed the alarming levels of sexual harassment to be brought to light in a very public way, raising mass awareness of the magnitude of the problem. This initial movement led to intense dialogue across the US and abroad from mainstream media to the streets. It also prompted a number of intensified responses, from the firing of perpetrators from their workplaces; an unprecedented level of criminal and civil proceedings; stepped up attention by workplaces to prevent and respond to violence; and independent initiatives to support women who have experienced abuse (i.e. #timesup).

Similar examples, include:

#ibelieveher and #ithappenshere have been used to resist victim-blaming during discussion of rape mostly in the United States,

#whyloiter and #girlsatdhabas have been used to challenge the restrictions on women’s access to public spaces in India and Pakistan,

#lifeinleggings has been used in Barbados to help women speak out about sexual harassment, rape and sexual abuse.

The Everyday Sexism Project (United Kingdom)

The Everyday Sexism Project was launched as an extremely simple idea by an activist in the UK – a website where women can anonymously upload short accounts of sexist treatment. These stories were more and more frequently shared on social media, often turning into a ‘trending topic’. It has empowered women and girls to speak out and connect with each other. It has also helped media workers to understand some parts of women’s lives including VAWG, that mainstream media were not previously representing, in particular the ‘everydayness’ of sexual harassment, sexist treatment, racist-sexism and its impact on women’s lives. The project has 24 international syndications.  It is free and available for replication for women everywhere.

For more information, see: Bates, L. (2014) Everyday Sexism, Simon & Schuster: London. http://everydaysexism.com/ 

Social media campaigns can play a crucial role, if appropriately planned:

  • Join and use the social media platforms you think may be right for your target audiences and planned VAWG prevention work.
  • Spend time looking at how the people and campaigns who attract a wide range of followers succeed - what is special about their content?
  • Make partnerships and plan in time to engage and interact on a regular and sustained basis. 
  • Be prepared to deal with backlash and unsupportive or discriminatory remarks/ comments.  Use facts and actual accounts or personal narratives (with consent) where possible.

Bytes for All - Pakistan

‘Bytes for All’ (B4A) in Pakistan is a think tank focused on the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for sustainable development and strengthening human rights movements in the country, with a focus on ending technology-driven gender-based violence. In 2013, B4A won an Avon Global Communications Award for Exemplary Material to Combat Violence Against Women, for its Take Back the Tech campaign, a collaborative campaign to reclaim information and communication technology to end violence against women, drawn from the flagship Take Back the Tech global project. The campaign harnessed the spread of technology in Pakistan to help strengthen women’s use of technology and digital story-telling to raise awareness of, and combat, VAWG.

During the international ’16 days of action to end violence against women’, B4A promoted powerful stories of women and girls who experienced, resisted and challenged VAWG in their lives. The stories which were hosted on their website, sought to challenge gender norms by highlighting the resistance and resilience of individual women and girls who had experienced a range of forms of VAWG, including violence online.

For more information, see: www.bytesforall.pk and https://samsn.ifj.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/ByteBack_CombatingOnlineHarassment.pdf  

 

A number of lessons and recommendations have been highlighted when using social media to engage in social norms change (Liou 2013):

  • Set time aside for active discussion with followers instead of only pre-scheduled messages at ‘peak’ times
  • Use a range of multi-media forms such as photos, videos, podcasts (ensuring appropriateness and consent)
  • Develop an online community that can keep the momentum going by providing opportunities for your followers to connect with each other
  • Consider how you will respond to any abusive engagement and set up systems for support within your organization or group
  • Work to the values of ‘Reward, Recognition, and Influence’; People like to get things, feel recognised by their peers, and know that they influenced something tangible
  • Grab attention/aim to trigger the senses by creating something personal, unexpected, visual (show, don’t tell) (Aaker & Smith 2010).  This can only be done with full informed consent of the individuals or group involved.
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